After his seminary education in the United States, Tial Thanga returned to his home country of Myanmar in the early 90’s, which at that time was under a military dictatorship. Since then, Tial has been instrumental in development of schools and churches throughout the country. In 1995, Tial started Reformed Seminary in Yangon.
Tial’s most notable featured is his good natured simplicity and the childlike curiosity he brings to his work developing the next generation of Christian leaders in Burma. I sat down with Tial in my 5th-story hotel room in Yangoon. We had just finished a week of discipleship training with some of his leaders and I wanted to hear more of his story as well as some of the unique opportunities and challenges of discipleship in a Buddhist Burmese context.
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New Connections and a Bright Future for WDA Africa
Nairobi 2017 finished Friday with the commissioning of 5 new staff, including new country directors for Congo and Ethiopia. Yesterday, those who are still here drove through Nairobi National Park featuring giraffes, one flustered ostrich, and a big lion fresh off her kill.
The conference I think far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Our 13 African associates connected exceptionally well with each other and our 13 American staff and volunteers, promising to pray for each other and to work together whenever possible. I was thrilled to see them think more strategically about WDA and begin to see it as a truly continental movement.
A few fun highlights from the week!
I bought 13 kindle fires and uploaded ALL our WDA content (bible studies, books, articles, teaching outlines, workbooks, etc) plus a small library of kindle books for their training and personal reading. The response was very gratifying! And more than one of them stayed up til 2AM reading the rest of the week!*I bought 13 kindle fires and uploaded ALL our WDA content (bible studies, books, articles, teaching outlines, workbooks, etc) plus a small library of kindle books for their training and personal reading. The response was very gratifying! And more than one of them stayed up til 2AM reading the rest of the week!
We had a very honoring “roast” for Ken, who started the international ministry 20+ years ago. We shared funny Ken stories and had a time to pray for him as he begins to step back and I take on more leadership. He was also very affirming of me to the guys in my new role.
Having Dan Horne, the chairman of the board there was a godsend, especially as our teams broke into country groups and developed strategic plans for nationalizing their ministries. He brought a lot of good business sense as well as a deep pastoral heart for the men.
It was so fun to have my dad Paul Harkness with me getting to know the guys, sharing a short devotional Friday morning, and then traveling with our group to the safari on Saturday. Of course everyone loved him and it was gratifying to come back with him to Kenya, the first place in Africa I visited with him back when I was in high school!
Restoring Your Heart leader, Nancy Higgins put a fire in everyone’s belly for bringing emotional restoration to their countries. Tanzania, Congo, and Ethiopia are ready to roll as soon as possible! Kenya is planning go through the work books as a team immediately.
I heard literally dozens of testimonies about how God had changed the lives of our staff and the people they minister to through WDA and how this week represented a new page in the history of WDA for them. They are going back home with new materials, a fresh passion, and a clearer vision for how to develop disciple-making movements in their communities and nations.
There are SO many other fun and significant highlights. But the bottom line is this: We connected with God and with each other this week. That was my biggest goal and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Now its off to Zambia! More on that to come!
This year, WDA expanded its work in the Philippines on a scale that is somewhat overwhelming, yet very exciting and humbling.. What is most impressive is that it hasn’t even been a full year at all, but rather just 8 months. Since last May our local partners- Sowers of the Word (SOW), The Philippine Bible Society ( PBS ) and The Center for Community Transformation (CCT) have all done amazing work. There have been dozens of training sessions lead by James, Remi, Perry and Dennis which have already resulted in more than 20,000 people participating in small groups. Now that our books are being translated and printed in Tagalog these numbers continue to grow. In our most recent conversation with Dennis Monong (CCT Leader) he reported great interest in Life Coaching and Restoring Your Heart this will provide even more opportunities in addition to our established ministries with Cornerstone. As a result of WDA ministry growth and impact, Filipino financial partners have provided donations to hire 2 additional trainers to help with the demand. The overall strategy is to continue to train leaders who begin groups using Cornerstone and follow that initial training with Life Coaching, Restoring Your Heart and Phase III (Equipping for Ministry). A three year plan is in place that addresses publishing, translation, training and leadership development.
God has been continuing to build momentum for discipleship in the Filipino church through the ongoing work of our partners and support provided by WDA. The potential impact of our WDA Training, Materials and Philosophy of Ministry should not be over looked. When people understand that our approach to disciple building is not merely curriculum driven but is part of a wholistic approach toward Christlike Maturity, where people “Think, Feel and Act” like Jesus, they begin to ask for more!
Significant portions of this trip were designed to live our philosophy of ministry. In addition to training, coaching and teaching WDA staff had the opportunity to live with and among pastors, to visit schools, seminaries, orphanages and factories, to visit over meals, and enjoy one another. The first stage in Disciple building and our R-CAPS model is Relationship! Our time together resulted in many in-depth multi-day discussions about how WDA could have a wholistic impact on the lives of Filipinos.
These men, women and children who span the spectrum from extremely impoverished villages and street-dwellers to influential Chinese-Filipino businessmen, have all had just a taste of what WDA has to offer and are eager to continue to know and roll out more. Here are a few of their stories.
“Miles to go before I sleep”
Just how many miles are you willing to drive to help a small rural church learn about Discipleship? James Tioco drove 15 hours to the northern city of Tuguegarao where he met with leaders who are eager to begin our WDA Cornerstone ministry. These leaders were getting trained following the same orientation program and same material that WDA staff and board members presented last May. The week before our team arrived (January 28, 2017) our friend and brother James Tioco, drove to meet with a group of leaders. James used materials printed by the Philippine Bible Society. They were given our Getting Started/Knowing God (translated into Tagalog) which is now printed in the Philippines as a “flip” book. James also taught from Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework and A Small Groups Manual. Each Training done by Sowers of the Word (WDA Philippines) prepares leaders to start a group themselves with leaders who will often begin a new Cornerstone group in their churches. The goal is not to just learn new information but to begin groups using the curriculum. To date over 300 groups have been started.
“MGC New Life Christian Academy”
After the 15 hour trip back to Manila James met our WDA team at MGC New Life Christian Academy where David Parfitt, Buddy Eades and Hugh Kirby were to meet with teachers and students. Hugh presented his testimony and we were able to challenge the students to consider how they would be able to disciple others. The staff was so impressed with what they heard that 2 weeks later our team was invited back to MGC Christian Academy to present WDA’s ministry and give them an overview of our materials. Since our return it has been decided they will use our materials in their schools and training has been set up in order for them to begin!
“Leaders Gather for Celebration, Stories and Orientation”
WDA leaders met together with the national leaders, who have been part of our ongoing discipleship training since our initial trip in May, for a 2 day Leadership Conference. Keynote speakers, Dr. Ruth Callanta and Dr. Melba Maggay, from the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) taught us the wholistic ministry approach that CCT employes. During this conference Jack Larson, Hugh Kirby (New Hope Church), David Parfitt and Buddy Eades presented an overview of Life Coaching and Jesus ministry as it relates to WDA’s Philosophy of Ministry. Each participant was given a copy of the Life Coaching Manual and learned how to develop a NGP. NGP (Needs Goals Projects) is a Life Coaching disciple building planning tool.
“PBS: Host and Ministry Partner”
The Philippine Bible Society has become a significant ministry partner. It should not be underestimated what PBS means to the roll out of WDA’s materials and training. PBS hosts local Manila training in their headquarters. PBS is designing, publishing, translating and providing distribution and sales of our materials (both in their book stores and on their web store). They are part of a the International Bible Society and as a result of this relationship they have committed to becoming a conduit for providing our materials and training to other countries where the International Bible Society is located. Each Bible Society has the same capability to print, design, translate and sell our materials. WDA partners in other countries would have the same opportunities as our Philippines ministry is using to provide WDA materials at a low cost with the same quality, consistency and format. The implications would be that WDA has the potential to print worldwide and local churches would not incur shipping costs.
“Factory Workers see Transformation”
WDA has a goal to see people transformed into the likeness of Christ. One worker at a factory run by Center for Community Transformation has seen her life change! “I was once a loudmouth and now I am different because of being part of WDA.” She and her co-workers are part of small groups provided for every worker. These men and women are not just part of groups but also lead groups themselves. Each factory run by CCT has a pastor who oversees discipleship and manages a process that ranges from management all the way to the line worker. Over 20,000 factory workers are now using WDA material in their small discipleship groups.
“Leaders Meet for Training and Planning”
At the CCT Retreat Center in the Tagaytay Highlands we met with leaders from Sowers of the Word, Leaders and Students from Febias Bible College and Seminary as well as Pastors from the Makati Gospel Church. These men and women were able to receive training on the Restoring Your Heart Ministry and also learn more about the Ministry of Christ and Philosophy of Ministry of WDA. All of these leaders were part of previous training with WDA. The benefit of returning to meet with them is that we are able to reinforce the information that they have learned by reading Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework, doing groups using Cornerstone and also by going thru training in small groups using WDA’s A Small Groups Manual.
The Pastors for the Makati Gospel Church were looking at using WDA as their main discipleship focus for the church. MGC has many small groups and were looking at many different approaches to discipleship. Our time with them over meals, during meetings and in individual conversations has resulted in them choosing to now only roll out WDA as the main equipping curriculum but also were part of helping us use the Cornerstone in the MCG Christian Academy. MCG Academy will use Cornerstone with 7-12 grade students as well as with faculty.
Along with MCG, one of our WDA trainers , Sis. Remi, along with Sis. Joy, Dean of Students at FEBIAS (Far East Bible Institute And Seminary), invited Jack, David and Buddy to meet with students and faculty to introduce our Disciple Building approach. FEBIAS is also looking at WDA as a significant part of student development and small groups at the college and seminary level.
The Restorative Ministry
The Restorative Ministry also sent a significant team to work with Rich Smith, WDA Staff member in Quezon City, Philippines. Rich has been in Quezon City developing a ministry with local pastors who have been very interested in starting Restoring Your Heart groups. The RYH team led 6 trainings over a 3 week period for people who were committed to start RYH groups. The challenges that face WDA with these prototype groups are providing ongoing feedback and training while receiving feedback about how the experience is going. WDA will use the feedback with these leaders and also with groups started by Sowers of the Word to begin a national strategy this coming year. In addition to Quezon City groups, 3 more groups have begun with Leaders at the Makati Gospel Church, the Philippine Bible Society and at FEBIAS.
What we see in these stories is but a small number of ways WDA is becoming a Worldwide Discipleship Association. WDA has a commitment to serve the Church Worldwide. Ministry partnerships around the globe will have ongoing impact as WDA provides the training, service and materials necessary to begin national movements where people grow to maturity. We would greatly appreciate your prayers and financial support in making these endeavors possible.
Just before leaving on a big trip, I always take a final look around to make sure I’ve got everything I need. Do I have my wallet, enough money for gas and food, my plane ticket, the papers with the addresses and phone numbers of hotels? Although I’m almost certain I’ve already put these in the car, I check one last time just to be sure. Why? Because if I’ve forgotten something essential, I may never make it to my intended destination.
In the same way, after making a decision to follow Christ, I had to look back to make sure I’d done everything right. I knew that if I’d misunderstood some essential aspect of salvation, I might never make it to where I wanted to go— heaven. Because of the importance of this salvation experience, it’s only natural that some people question their experience or want to make sure they “did it right.” We know that God’s done His part in sending His Son to pay for our sins. Our concern is that perhaps we’ve not done everything right on our part to receive His gracious gift. That’s what this lesson is all about.
Why not stop reading for a moment and ask God to help you understand His Word on this important topic. If you’re not used to talking to God, you could just say something like, “God, I want to make sure I’ve done everything I need to do in order to be forgiven and to be Your child. Please help me to understand. Thanks for caring about me!”
UNDERSTANDING WHAT GOD DID FOR US
First, there are certain things we need to understand and believe. Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you live consistently with it.” Yet, Hitler believed that he was doing the world a favor by killing off “lesser” races and helping the “superior” Aryan race to dominate the earth. Osama Bin Laden believes that Allah wants him to kill people who don’t believe as he does. Both Hitler and Bin Laden may have lived consistently with their beliefs. Yet, wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions. Having the right belief is critical. What must we believe to be saved?
The Bad News: We are sinful and this sin separates us from God. Because of our sin, we are lost and can’t have a relationship with God through our own efforts.
Imagine that you’re in a math class and your teacher says, “You should know how to work all of these problems by now. The passing grade for this pop quiz is 100%.” Yet, as you take the test, you realize that you’re getting some of the problems wrong. No matter how many you get right from now on, will you ever pass the test? No. Because passing is 100%. No matter how many you get correct from now on, you’ll never get 100%. You’re gonna fail.
Passing that math test after missing some problems is as impossible as making it to heaven, on our own, after we’ve already sinned—falling short of God’s perfection. Imperfect people can’t make it to a perfect heaven on their own merits. This is the first thing we need to believe.
The Good News: Knowing that we couldn’t save ourselves, God sent His Son
Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to His heavenly Father. When He died on the cross, He wasn’t dying for His own sins, but for our sins. He paid the penalty that we deserved to pay.
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (I Peter 3:18a)
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Imagine that last year you found a misplaced folder at work that proved your employers were exaggerating their profits to make their company look good to the stock holders. Although you knew you should go public with the information, you thought of your responsibility to your family and didn’t want to risk getting fired. Now you sit in a courtroom before a judge who finds you guilty of participating in the crime by withholding information. He says that you must either pay a fine of $100,000.00 or serve 10 years in jail. You tell him you don’t have $100,000.00. As a righteous judge, he declares you guilty.
Then the judge, seeing the distress on your face and the faces of your children, appears to be holding back tears as he writes something that only he can see. He hands it to a courtroom aid, who delivers it to you. You gasp as you realize that the judge has just written you a check for $100,000.00, offering to pay the entire penalty that you owed.
That’s what the Bible calls grace—God offering a payment for what you owed, not because you deserved it, but because of His great love. How astounding that God would pay our debt with the sacrifice of His Son.
But it’s not enough for God to offer this gift. You could reject the check offered to you by the gracious judge. How do we receive God’s grace? It’s not enough to believe in God and believe that Jesus died for our sins. According to the Bible, even demons believe in God (James 2:19). We must receive His forgiveness through repentance and faith. Let’s look at these one at a time.
RESPONDING THE WAY GOD WANTS US TO RESPOND
Repent From Our Sins. Repentance is our response to the bad news: our sinfulness and rebellion against God. The simplest definition of repentance is “a willingness to change.” Don’t get confused here! We’re not saying that we change so that God will save us. That would be salvation by works! Besides, we can’t make a lot of changes in our lives until God renews us and empowers us to live a new life. We’re simply saying that we make a mental change of allegiance, from bowing to self to bowing to God. In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change! I want to turn from my sin and serve You!”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ (Matthew 4:17)
Believe In Jesus. Faith or belief in Christ is our appropriate response to the good news.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) and worked miracles and rose from the dead.” To believe in Jesus means that you put your trust in Him. It’s like people who say that they believe in aerobic exercise.
They don’t mean merely that they believe that somewhere in the world, aerobic exercise classes exist. They mean that they believe enough in aerobics to be willing to do aerobics. If a person says she believes in Coke, she’s saying more than she believes Coca-Cola exists. She believes in it enough as a refreshing beverage that she’s willing to drink it.
Similarly, faith in Christ is more than an intellectual agreement that He exists. It’s putting our trust in Him to save us. It’s entrusting ourselves to Him. We’re saying that we believe that God has offered us forgiveness through the death of Christ for our sins and we accept the payment that He offers. We’re also saying that we’re willing to follow Christ.
In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change! I want to turn from my sin and serve you!”
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Although repentance and faith focus on two different things, sin and Christ, they are actually one mental act. As we turn away from our sin, we turn toward Christ at the same time. As Jesus said,
‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15)
So, let’s go back to the important trip we talked about at the beginning of this lesson. In order to make sure I could make it to my destination, I asked myself, “Did I bring my plane ticket? Did I bring enough cash?” In the same way, if we want to make sure that we are truly God’s children and are going to make it to heaven, we must ask, “Have I truly repented of my sins? Have I truly believed on Jesus?” If you know that you haven’t, or if you’re simply not sure, why not confirm your decision by expressing it to God in prayer. He’s not so interested in the words you use as He is the sincerity of your heart. If this written prayer expresses the desire of your heart, why not say it to God right now?
“God, I’ve gone my own way. I’m sorry. I’m turning from my sins. Give me the strength to follow You. I believe in You, putting my trust in you to save me from my sins. Make me into a new person and take me to heaven. Thanks for forgiving me and loving me so much!”
If you prayed that prayer and sincerely meant it, then on the authority of God’s Word, you are His child and you are successfully headed to your destination—heaven!
FACTS VERSUS FEELINGS
You’re having one of those days. You didn’t get enough sleep last night. Your boss treats you like dirt. You go to your home fellowship meeting and hope to get some encouragement. Instead, you see this bubbly Christian who never seems down who tells about how God solved all her problems. “All my problems aren’t solved,” you think. Then a new Christian gives a dramatic testimony about how he received Christ and felt something like electricity go through his entire body.
“I didn’t have a big emotional experience when I got saved,” you think. Then you begin to wonder if you’re really a Christian at all.
This is where you must put emotions in their place. The Bible said, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It didn’t say, “whoever feels bubbly all the time” will have eternal life. It didn’t say, “whoever has a dramatic emotional experience” will have eternal life. It says that “whoever believes in Him shall…have eternal life.”
So, if I truly believe/repent, but am not saved, what would this say about God? (He would be a liar. And if God’s a liar, we’re all up the creek!) So the salvation of those who repent and believe is as secure as the promise of God, regardless of how we feel.
Hint: Some people offset future doubts by writing down exactly what they understood and prayed when they received Christ. For example, you might photocopy this lesson and write at the end, “I understood this lesson and prayed this prayer for assurance of my salvation on this day” (write out date). Next, put it in a safe place.
Ten years from now, when you have another one of those bad days and Satan whispers in your ear, “You didn’t know what you were doing when you prayed that prayer ten years ago,” you can take it out and show Satan exactly what you did. Your salvation is as secure as the promise of God. Then you can tell Satan to “get lost.”
I have wondered over the last few years if WDA should publish our Guided Discussions as a ebook. Could we actually deliver a meaningful experience for our customers who might not want to carry a book to their group.
One younger leader mentioned that he was excited about the new workbooks we publish for Cornerstone but after looking at the format said, “when are you going to create a ebook version. None of the people I work with will bring a book to small group but all of them have their iPhone®.”
I was also talking to a friend who is creating curriculum for church leaders in Africa, and as we talked he mentioned that there are many challenges to creating and publishing materials for their ministry partners. Our International staff has taken digital pdf books or even hard copies of materials to people by hand.
As you can see printing materials in many countries is very challenging. Not only is it a challenge it can be costly.
Because WDA’s mission is to serve the church worldwide, we are always looking for new ways to deliver our materials and training to as many people as possible. I think ebooks is a good option for some people! So what do you think?
Just this week we published all the books that are part of “Cornerstone” in a Kindle format. You can now get Getting Started, Knowing God, Understanding People and Growing Spiritually to use on your device.
At this point we are offering them for Kindle, which can be also used on other devices that use the Kindle app as well.
They are available now on Smile.Amazon.com. There are both student and leaders editions available for you and your church to use.
If you want to know more about these books, please visit our WDA store, and read about them.
You can then follow the link to the smile.amazon.com website, where by buying with Smile.amazon, Amazon will give a portion of your ebook purchase to WDA as a charitable gift at no cost to you!
We hope you like the Cornerstone books in the Kindle format. We are also working on versions for epub/ibooks. Please contact us if you desire those formats as well.
What is Amazon Smile? By logging into smile.amazon.com rather than the regular Amazon.com site you can choose Worldwide Discipleship Association as a charity and Amazon makes donation to WDA with each purchase!
Learn more about the program and how to choose WDA by following this link. WDA Amazon Smile